Emojis and Christ-like Empathy

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I typed too many words and hit ‘send’ too fast. I realize this now but didn’t then. To be honest, I probably thought the opposite.

Over the past few years, a couple close friends and family members have gotten some really bad news. Cancer everywhere news. Irreversible heart damage news. “I can’t imagine,” news. 

And while this was happening we texted each other. We texted about medications and diet restrictions. My mother-in-law gave up bacon (too much sodium) while my friend Eric forced down scrambled eggs and smoothies (chemo kills an appetite). We texted about TV shows and parenting and strange weather. 

These texts I could mostly handle. I usually had something to say and could sometimes even do something. And so I made Pinterest boards and talked about Parks and Rec and commented on the lack of sunshine. 

These texts didn’t rattle me to the core. They didn’t make my whole body freeze as tears ran down my face. These texts tiptoed through the emotional minefield of really bad news. Sometimes we were even able to send an LOL or two. 

But then there were other texts. Texts that hinted at the big fears—fears that grow at night and show up in your dreams. Fears that God might not answer our prayers in the way we so desperately hoped. 

“I’m scared by the amount of pain…” 

“This wasn’t the news we hoped for. We will be staying longer...” 

Texts with pictures of IVs and pill bottles and babies under fluorescent lights.  

These texts undid me because I knew, deep down, that I did not and could not understand the place from which they were being sent. I was on the sidelines, a support as much as I could be, but not actually in the battle. 

With these texts, I did what I do what I’m nervous or scared and said too much. I responded quickly about how sorry I was, how it was so unfair, that my coworkers were praying, and oh, by the way, need someone to let out the dog or drop off food?

And on and on I went, trying to fix something somehow. I wanted to soften the blow of news that felt so heavy it could crush someone. I was trying to fill a role that wasn’t mine to fill. 

And thankfully, somewhere along the way, I learned something. 

It was a response to a group text that really opened my eyes. My friend Chelsea had just texted a particularly jarring update when a few minutes later another friend replied simply with two emojis—the ‘broken heart’ and ‘praying hands’ emojis.  

And in that moment, I knew she had said everything that needed to be said. We are with you and our hearts are broken too. We are praying for you, begging God for healing as we try hard to remember that God knows you, loves you, and is somehow working even now. 

And before I typed a million words (insert facepalm emoji), I cried and I prayed, maybe inching a little closer to empathy that looks like Jesus (John 11:35, Mark 14:36). 

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Thank you for this. As someone who comes from a family with a particularly bad medical history, this hits home.

Well said and well done, Staci. Thanks!

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Such a thoughtful piece, Staci. Thank you!